Catching Up with Salomon Ligthelm
Over the past few weeks, we've been working with Salomon Ligthelm on a new website for his work to live in. For those who don't know, Salomon is a Director. His journey into filmmaking has been explored time and time again; a testament to the fact that hard work and practice pays off.
We took some time to disrupt our workflows in order to talk and catch up. Salomon discusses how he's been approaching this pandemic, his thoughts on making his first feature-length film, and some of the design elements that have shown up in his new site.
MW: The last time we sat down and caught up with you was back in 2018 for our podcast. What’s been going on with you since then? Seems like you’ve hit quite a few milestones.
SL: Yeah, feels like ages ago. Honestly, it’s all been crazy, as you can probably imagine. I’ve been doing lots of commercial work, some music videos from time to time, hit a period of burn-out, and now as of recently, trying to come to terms with this global pandemic. All the while, trying to get a film off the ground. It’s exhausting just thinking about it all. To be honest, it’s really hard to hustle when the “world is burning”, for lack of a better term. It almost feels wrong. But I try not to get too caught up in that type of thinking. It can sometimes cause more harm than good. I’m having to remind myself to be thankful and practice gratitude. I have a means to provide for my family, so I can’t complain.
MW: Yeah, the whole work-from-home thing is a slow adjustment for all of us, I think. We complain about being busy, but honestly it’s a good problem to have. I’m glad you brought up your film though. I know that’s been something you’ve been tackling for awhile now. You’ve been pretty strategic about not rushing into your first feature. Can you elaborate on why that is?
SL: Yeah for sure. It’s always been a focus of mine to tell the right story. By that I mean, a story you believe in. One that you can place yourself into. So I’ve always approached the making of a feature film as a sort-of cathartic experience -- a means to exercise my spiritual-, emotional-, and philosophical-self. But that’s a fine line to walk. There’s a balance in making a film that isn’t indulgent. It still needs to be accessible. I knew going into this, that there is so much to learn in the craft of making a film, that I didn’t want to jump the gun. And I’m continuing to learn as I go, but at least now I feel like I’m equipped well enough to start the process. I think another thing that has been in the back of my mind is getting too comfortable with doing commercials and music videos. You get used to the income it provides, and you become accustomed to only telling stories in a short format. For me, I think I’m at the right stage to make my next leap.
MW: For most filmmakers, it seems like directing a feature that gains recognition seems to be the end goal. Does that ring true for you, or do you find the finish line somewhere else?
SL: I think it’s less about recognition or prestige, and more about visibility and credibility. At the end of the day, I want to be able to make my first film, and use that as a springboard to make my second film. If your film doesn’t really get seen by anyone, or if it’s critically panned or makes no money, it’s going to be a lot harder to get that second film off the ground. So I want to be very intentional and take my time to do it right, to do it small. You only get one first film. So doing it with an “independent” approach, with people who I love, trust, and respect feels like the best thing I can do. Hopefully then, we’re set up to do good work, so that we can repeat the process after it’s all done.
MW: I want to take a second to switch things up. You’re an incredibly introspective person, so I’m curious as to what you think more people should be paying attention to right now.
SL: There’s a lot of different directions I could take this.. Something that I keep going back to is the fact that we all have to get on this hamster-wheel of excessive work and creative output, normally through social media or digital channels. I feel like it’s slowly, but surely, atrophying the real and tangible connections that many of us share and value. Maybe people are just better at managing their work lives than I am, but I have a feeling that most of us who call ourselves “creatives”, don't talk to or connect enough with our immediate families. And that just feels like such a shame. The whole purpose of the internet and these digital channels is to maintain a level of connection, but it’s just a proxy. It’s not real, and we’re left feeling empty. And I’m not quite sure what the remedy to that is.
MW: It’s tough, especially when our careers are wrapped up in the digital space. We always find it really rewarding to be able to make something physical and tangible in this digital age. It seems like we’re breaking that loop, even if it’s for a short amount of time.
SL: Definitely. And I don’t think the answer is as simple as “getting off the internet or social media”. It’s more about realigning our priorities, and breaking the loop, like you said. I think we need to refocus on our communities and families.
MW: Speaking of families, I wanted to talk about yours. How has fatherhood informed your work and the logistical aspects of your practice?
SL: I’ll start with logistical, since maybe that’s the most obvious. Quite simply, I’ve tried to be at home more. And that’s a real challenge because the nature of my job involves travel. So I’ve been more intentional and selective about seeking out work that is closer to home. And obviously now, in this time of quarantine, I’m definitely making up for lost time. I count this as a tremendous blessing.
From a creative standpoint, it’s focused almost all of my long-form concepts around the idea of how kids relate to their parents. It’s something I’m thinking about all the time. For instance, the film I’m working on now revolves around a Russian-immigrant child in New York City who burglarizes the homes of other undocumented immigrants as a means to provide for his family. This pits him against his father, the assumed patriarch of the family. Exploring this relationship from multiple angles is something I wouldn’t have been able to do as in-depth if I wasn’t a Father. And those themes and ideas will grow and change as my kids grow and change as well.
MW: That’s so fascinating. The last thing I want to touch on involves the new website we created with you for your work to live in. As a Director, how important is design and presentation in your work?
SL: I’ve always loved strong design, in all its facets: Web, print, architecture. You name it. Directing is perhaps one of the only vocations that requires a simultaneously broad, yet somewhat in-depth knowledge of multiple creative industries. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunities to travel and absorb design in its different cultural contexts. I think about Xinjiang frequently. It’s a remote Chinese province bordering Afghanistan, Russia, and Mongolia. At the intersection of the Arabic, Russian, Manderin, and English languages is this clear and uniform design. It’s what connects it all. I think it’d be the perfect place to shoot an avant-garde sci-fi film.
But that said, design has to serve a purpose. Circling back to my website, we spoke early on about the idea of integrating symbols into the framework. Symbols are very intriguing, and work on many levels. Obviously they work on an aesthetic level, but I also find them to be compelling from a narrative standpoint. They contain an inherent mystique, especially if you don’t understand their meaning. I wanted this site to be relatively easy and engaging in order to navigate my portfolio of work, but I also wanted to allow the opportunity to dig a little bit deeper into the Ethos behind the work as well. The symbols, which are historical and religious, connect to some specific people and their ideas. People who have inspired my creative, philosophical, and spiritual journey over time. You can find them scattered throughout the site, revealing only one thought at a time. This idea of exploration throughout the site, allows the viewer to discover a deeper sense of my point-of-view, in a way that is pretty unique and personal to me. And I don’t think any of that would have been possible without good design and proper presentation.